Dramatic change in the Japanese film industry occurs about as frequently as dramatic change at Mount Fuji, which last erupted in 1707.
Every year, the box-office top 10 is dominated by releases from Toho, which are mainly new installments of tried-and-true anime franchises or live-action films based on TV series or manga. And as reliably as the sunrise, graying industry figures weigh in on the sad state of Japanese cinema, with some predicting its imminent demise. Yet the industry lumbers on, like a dinosaur oblivious to the giant meteor in the sky.
A long-time symbol of that conservative mindset is the Japan Academy, an industry organization that bestows annual awards, similar to Hollywood’s Oscars. Since its inception in 1977, the Japan Academy prize for best picture has generally gone to films by industry stalwarts backed by major studios, including Yoji Yamada (director of Shochiku’s long-running “Tora-san” series), Kinji Fukasaku (maker of Toei’s seminal “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” yakuza action series) and Hayao Miyazaki (creator of many a hit anime distributed by Toho).